Thousands of pro-federalization activists have rallied in cities across Eastern Ukraine, calling for greater sovereignty of their region from Kiev. Activists have formed militias that helped anti-Maidan protesters seize several government buildings.
Activists in Slavyansk, a city in eastern Ukraine located in the north of the Donetsk region with a population of 120,000, seized the police headquarters and the city council building Saturday. Police said Anti-Maidan protesters also seized the local office of Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU.
They hoisted a Russian flag on top of the police HQ, Slavyansk Mayor Nelly Shtepa said.
“As I negotiated with the activists today, they explained that they represent the Donetsk regional people’s militia. They said that they oppose Kiev authorities and today they are negotiating with them” she said.
Shtepa added that the people of the city support the activists’ calls for a referendum on the region’s federalization, and are urging the police to side with the people.
If the authorities in Kiev will “try to suppress the uprising, many civilians will die, this cannot be allowed,” Shtepa said.
There are reports that the activists in Slavyansk have taken up weapons. However, one of the members of the Donbas people’s militia told media that no one was hurt during the storm of the police HQ, adding that the government building will be under their control until a referendum is held.
Ukraine’s coup-imposed Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that the raid on police HQ was carried out by masked men with guns. He promised that the government’s answer to the raid would be “very harsh.” Avakov added that a Special Forces unit has been deployed to the scene.
Anti-Maidan protesters stopped two buses full of security forces which were heading from Donetsk to Slavyansk, Rossiya 24 TV channel reported. After negotiations, the security forces turned back to their Donetsk HQ.
“I can’t say there was a conflict between the police and activists, the latter just accompanied the Special Unit forces back to their HQ,” said a Rossiya 24 correspondent, who was at the scene.
In Donetsk, officers of the former Berkut special riot police unit refused to obey orders from Kiev and move to crush a pro-federalization takeover in Slavyansk. Instead Berkut officers sided with the people of the region, offering them security and protection.
Berkut forces occupied police headquarters in Donetsk. Tying St. George ribbons to their uniform, the special unit said that they supported the demands of the local population and refused to obey their command. Berkut fighters arrived at the building of the Internal Affairs building of the city.
“Berkut has always been and will remain with its people,” a representative of Berkut said as he addressed the crowd, Youtube video shows. “I want to assure you, that if you're faced with threats, any type of a threat, we will all rise up and come to your rescue,” the representative continued to loud cheers from the crowd, with applause and chants of “Berkut! Berkut!”
In the morning opponents of the Kiev authorities tried to take control of regional prosecutor's office, with a few managing to enter the building for negotiations. The protesters were demanding for Donetsk regional police chief to resign. Conceding to demands, the head of police Major-General Konstantin Pozhidaev announced his resignation.
— Maria Finoshina (@MFinoshina_RT) April 12, 2014
Supporters of federalization returned to the regional state administration building which they continue to hold since the beginning of the week.
Pro-federalization protesters have also occupied the police headquarters in the town of Kramatorsk, Donbas region, reports Itar-Tass. Around 50 armed protesters entered the building and several warning shots were heard, but witnesses and hospitals did not report any injuries.
Yet, local Ukrainian media claimed that one person has been wounded. "According to preliminary information shots at the Kramatorsk police station were fired from Makarov pistols and Kalashnikovs. There is one wounded," Novosti Donbassa reports not citing their source.
Following the takeover, almost immediately a spontaneous rally assembled in support of the anti-Kiev activists.
— пётр бабик (@bublic68) April 12, 2014
As the anti-Maidan forces secured the building they addressed the crowd, saying that they had to occupy the premises against Kiev’s “corrupt” police chiefs. “Common policemen will continue serving the people of Donbas,” they announced. The self-defense force also promised to protect the region and the citizens of the town from the “Kiev junta”, Youtube video shows.
“We are the people that rose up to kick-out the Kiev corrupt police force,” a man from the video says, as the crowd cheered him on. “We will serve the people of the Donetsk region.”
Earlier on Saturday, a Donetsk Republic flag was raised at the city administration building, as the anti-Maidan rally took place in the city, showing their support for independence of the Donetsk Region.
Kramatorsk is a city of some 200,000 people in Donetsk Region in eastern Ukraine. The city is an important mechanical engineering center in Ukraine.
Amid the protests calling for Ukraine’s federalization, acting president Aleksandr Turchinov sacked the head of the SBU security service for the Donetsk region, Valery Ivanov, on Saturday, according to a decree published on the presidential website.
Protests also took place in Kharkov, where hundreds of pro-federalization activists gathered in the city center demanding a regional referendum on broader autonomy from Kiev.
At the same time supporters of the Kiev authorities have also held a march with many witnesses reporting large crowds from the ultra-nationalist Right Sector.
Police officers managed to detain four men, two of which came from Western Ukraine, wearing bulletproof vests at the Kharkov train station, who tried to smuggle a cardboard box in with homemade explosive devices.
In other smaller towns across Ukraine's Donetsk region, activists have also taken over local administration buildings and police HQs.
In Druzhkovka, a town of 60,000 people, activists have managed to seize power at the local police headquarters after a rally.
Gathered outside the HQ, they shouted, “As long as we're united, we will be victorious.”
Earlier on Saturday about 20 men also secured the police department of the Krasny Liman, a town of around 20,000 people in the Donetsk region.
"There is no armed seizure of the building. As you can see, the city police station is closed. People gathered here to prevent provocations. Because this is our city and we don't want any riots. Everything is ok and calm,” Andrey Bobrov, Donbass militia activist told RT Ruptly.
The town of Konstantinovka with 80,000 people and Snezhnoe have also seen pro-federalization uprisings on Saturday, local media reports. In the city of Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine a rally has also been held in support of the Donetsk regional authorities.
Unrest has gripped eastern Ukraine after the EuroMaidan protests in Kiev, which resulted in a coup on February 22. People in Donetsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and other cities are calling for a referendum to decide on the status of the Donbass regions.